Also see Fred's review of Dr. Ruth, All the Way
Norman Plotkin, who passed away two years ago, authored this play which currently enjoys its world premiere. Even if Thompson, writing from the 1920s through the 1940s, was bold, incisive and unafraid, some (since she was a woman) disparaged her. She remained undaunted in her quest to tell truths.
Thompson became a proactive voice for women. She was determined to demonstrate that life was not all about fashion and etiquette. Rather, Thompson, for example, took on Adolph Hitler and was tossed out of Germany for her opposition.
The 80 minute performance begins on the morning of June 16, 1943, as Thompson readies to marry her third husband, Maxim Kopf. Designer Patrick Brennan creates a true-to-life set including the writer's desk, period furniture, and, in all, a suitably lived-in home. Director Nicole Ricciardi's movement facilitation for the actress is excellent.
The opening portion of the production immediately garners attention as Randolph's Thompson, jittery about the upcoming wedding, describes herself as "overbearing." The phone rings time and again during the show and the interruptions are logicalto a degree. Moving on, we discover that Thompson fell in love with her first husband, Joseph, in Vienna. Her second husband was Sinclair Lewis and she often speaks of him, calling him Hal. In fact, the script too often alludes to one of the husbands and highlights Thompson's colloquial response. The problem, however, is balance. One wishes for more attention to political times and her commentary.
Toward the end of her monologue, Thompson, agitated, says, "And so I was called 'the witch of war.'" She speaks of going to many states and spreading word of Hitler's evil. "Throughout history no one has ever gone to war except for profit." Vehement and cutting, Randolph's disposition is nothing short of fiery.
Thompson was a passionate individual whose deep-felt convictions marked her columns. Within the private confines of her home, though, she would question herself and her personal choices. Playwright Plotkin does well to reveal her personality and the actress makes the most of each moment for presentation.
One senses that Tod Randolph understands Dorothy Thompson on many a level. It is not a stretch to assume that she researched and read about the journalist and has thus developed an intellectual approach to realizing the character. She complements this with physical gesture. Costumer Kara D. Midlam outfits Randolph in a pinkish and tan dress from the 1940s. Randolph perfectly looks the part.
Excerpts from columns and other writings would enhance Cassandra Speaks. Randolph's fine range allows her to find various emotions including anger or fervor. This actress immediately portrays Thompson as a spirited human and one who will swiftly doubt her personal choices. Randolph's fine acting turn is emotionally sustaining from start to finish.
Cassandra Speaks continues at the Bernstein Theatre on the grounds of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through September 2nd. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit Shakespeare.org.
- Fred Sokol